Leahy Urges Senate To Support Stronger Oversight And Shorter Sunset For FISA Amendments Act

WASHINGTON – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Thursday urged lawmakers to adopt the Judiciary Committee’s substitute amendment to extend expiring surveillance authorities under the FISA Amendments Act (FAA), which includes important reporting and oversight provisions and a shorter sunset to ensure a more thorough Congressional review. The Senate Thursday afternoon began debate on Leahy’s amendment to the pending FISA legislation.

“While there is no question that the surveillance powers established in the FISA Amendments Act have proven to be extraordinarily important for our national security, it is equally clear to me that those broad powers must continue to come with rigorous oversight and strong privacy protections,” Leahy said in a floor statement. “That is why the Senate should adopt the Senate substitute amendment that would allow the Government to continue using these authorities, but for period of time that ensures strong and independent oversight.” 

The Judiciary Committee bill, reported in July, is currently before the Senate and includes a new requirement for the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community to conduct a thorough review of how these surveillance authorities are being implemented across the intelligence community. It also shortens the sunset of the provisions in the underlying bill to balance operational certainty with Congress’s ability to review these broad surveillance powers. The intelligence community has said reauthorization of this authority is a top legislative priority, and Senator Leahy worked with Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Intelligence Committee, “to craft a compromise to shorten the sunset to 2015 and to add some accountability and oversight provisions.”

“Sunsets force Congress to re-examine carefully the surveillance powers that have been authorized, and they force the administration to provide full and accurate information to justify to Congress the reauthorization of significant authorities,” Leahy said.  “The last thing we want is for the NSA and the FBI to take for granted that they will have these powers, especially when the misuse or abuse of these powers could significantly impact the constitutional liberties of Americans.  Likewise, we must never take for granted our constitutional liberties, and we should not shy away from our duty as Senators to protect against any such misuse or abuse.”

Leahy also pointed out that “there has never been a comprehensive review of these authorities by an independent Inspector General that would provide a complete perspective on how these authorities are being used, and whether they are being used properly.”  In Leahy’s proposal, the Inspector General for the entire Intelligence Community has the power to examine the practices of multiple agencies involved in intelligence gathering to protect against abuse. 

“We often hear Senators speak about the need for vigorous and independent oversight of the Executive Branch, the need to support independent inspectors general who are not beholden to a particular agency, and the need for Congress to conduct its own independent reviews as a check on the power of the Executive,” Leahy said.  “I call upon all Senators, on both sides of the aisle, who talk about accountability and oversight to join with us to adopt this better approach to ensuring our security and our privacy by adopting the Senate bill as embodied in the substitute amendment.”

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